Ideas and policies won the election for the UCP, but things could have been different if the previous leader had decided to stick around.
Vancouver, BC [May 31, 2023] – Prior to the televised debate in Alberta’s provincial election, the New Democratic Party (NDP) had a slight two-point edge over the United Conservative Party (UCP) in a Research Co. survey. NDP leader Rachel Notley was connecting on her party’s traditional strengths—health care and education—and even was ahead of the UCP’s Danielle Smith on the preferred premier question. Smith was seen as a superior choice to deal with the energy file and was regarded as a better economic manager, but not by much.
After the debate and in the final days of campaigning, our final poll focused on likely voters, as well as those who had already cast their ballot prior to Election Day. The NDP saw its significant 26-point advantage in the Edmonton Metropolitan Area (61% to 35%), which had been enough to put the party in first place provincewide, fall to 13 points (55% to 42%). Still significant, but not overwhelming.
In the Calgary Metropolitan Area, the lead for the UCP fell to three points (50% to 47%). In the remaining areas of the province, two thirds of decided voters (68%) told us they would support the UCP, and fewer than three-in-ten (28%) were casting a ballot for the NDP. Our final forecast in the three regions deviates by a couple of points or less from the final results published by Elections Alberta.
Our “Exit Poll” outlines why the UCP consolidated the vote in the final stages of the campaign. Ideas and policies were the most important factor for 44% of voters in Alberta. On this indicator, UCP supporters have a higher score than their NDP counterparts (48% to 39%). Practically half of Albertans who voted for the winning party had ideas and policies in mind. This is higher than the percentages observed for the Progressive Conservatives in Ontario (40%) and the CAQ in Quebec (28%) in last year’s provincial elections.
Just over one-in-four voters in Alberta (26%) told us that the main motivator for their vote was the party’s leader. NDP supporters were more likely to be casting a ballot for Notley (33%) than UCP supporters directly endorsing Smith (22%). All other possible factors are ranked significantly lower: disgust with other contending candidates (11%), the party’s candidate in the riding (8%), desire for stability (also 8%) and desire for change (also 8%).
In an election where only two contending parties have a chance of winning seats, asking about “strategic voting” makes little sense. Instead, we relied on three questions to figure out specific feelings. The negativity was not intense. About one-in-four voters said they cast a ballot for a candidate or party they dislike (23%) or voted to avoid policies they dislike (24%).
Perceptions on the future are another matter. Only 42% of voters in Alberta thought the province would be in a good place, regardless of who won the election. This leaves practically three-in-five voters (58%) who expected Alberta to be in a bad place if a specific party emerged victorious. The polarization is palpable when we look at this question by party support: 60% of UCP voters and 59% of NDP voters predicted hard times if “the other party” formed the government.
At this moment, following the concession and victory speeches, one could assume that the Premier and the Leader of the Opposition would face each other again in 2027. Albertans, who flirted with smaller parties for months, are ready for fresh faces. Almost four-in-five (79%) wish that the province had better people serving as leaders of the main political parties. Of course, each side seems to be blaming someone else: 82% of NDP voters and 81% of UCP voters appear to thoroughly dislike each other’s standard-bearers.
Finally, we take a look at the first leader of the UCP. When asked if they would cast a ballot for the party if Jason Kenney was still in command, 42% of voters in Alberta agreed—a proportion that rises to 50% among men and 49% among those aged 55 and over.
The stark contrast is outside of Calgary and Edmonton, where only 38% of voters were ready to back the UCP with Kenney as leader—a severe drop from the 68% who voted for the party under Smith this year. The former premier may have lost the rural areas after failing to strike the right balance on COVID-19. This precipitated the creation of alternatives, such as the minor parties that, ultimately, did not come close to running full slates of candidates.
Smith, who recovered in time to be ahead on the Best Premier question on our final poll of the campaign, deserves credit for keeping the UCP together. Only 64% of UCP voters in 2023 would have supported the party with Kenney as leader. Some may say that this year’s election yielded a lower seat count and a diminished popular vote to the UCP, but these comparisons are being made with the best version of Kenney that existed and was no longer available in 2020, 2021 and 2022. This election would have been very different if the UCP had not changed leaders.
Find our data tables here.
Methodology: Results are based on an online study conducted on May 29 and May 30, 2023, among 500 adults in Alberta who voted in the 2023 provincial election. The margin of error — which measures sample variability — is +/- 4.4 percentage points for the sample of decided voters, nineteen times out of twenty.
Photo Credit: Marcel Schoenhardt